Solar saves water…

Back in 2002, researchers were already warning of the shortage of water, and the possibility that there would be ‘water wars’.


I’ve been going through a set of older notebooks to look up some project design detail, and came across a set of research notes, from 2002, for this slide deck.

Back in 2002, researchers were already warning of the shortage of water, and the possibility that there would be ‘water wars’. This 2016 National Geographic article is a good starter, if you don’t think water wars are a thing.

One of the more well know American “water wars” , are the Tri-State water wars going on between Atlanta, Georgia, and Florida. Lake Laneir, created some 50-years ago by the Army Corps of Engineers when they created the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River. It along with Lake Allatoona were created primarily for hydropower. Both lakes feed major river basins that flow from Georgia through to Alabama and Florida. As Atlanta grows, with much higher water needs, the dispute over whose water it is, started

(Clean) Water is becoming a scarce commodity. With the administrations change of how we classify “Clean Water“, the need to conserve water has never been greater. Forget the climate impact and other negative impacts of coal and nuclear power, they are both “water monster” fuels.

The nations thermoeletric power stations use 4x as much water as all US Residencies, and about the same as farms. Nuclear power plants intake water flow rates can range from 13,500 to 52,000 gallons per minute.

Uranium fuel extraction, requires 45-150 gallons of water per megawatt-hour of electricity produced and uranium mining has contaminated surface or ground water sources in at least 14 states (1).

Choices made now  about power sources will be reverberating for decades. Many Americans are still choosing solar, despite the increased cost following the addition of tariffs, Solar installations in the US are remaining stable, year over year.

If you’ve been thinking about installing a residential solar system, this is another great reason to do it, albeit one that doesn’t have a direct financial benefit. Maybe you will end up selling water by the river?


Pray for rain?

I’m completely baffled, and offended by this. Anyone who has jumped aboard the knowledge train about water in Texas, and doesn’t see why this is a bad thing, just hasn’t thought it through. If you believe in God, I can’t see how you can pray for rain. The amount of rain needed to make a real difference would be gargantuan.

A major news item in the last 24-hours has been the announcement by the TCEQ that “Dozens of Texas communities have less than 90 days of water“. The report was carried far and wide, and included a video segment, see the Shreeveport Times version here.

Then there was last weeks’ HBO Vice. It carried a 15-minute segment called Deliver Us From Drought, on the drought in Texas. Unsurprisingly for a show with Bill Maher as Executive Producer, it included a focus on the religious types Praying for rain.

We should already have a permanent ban on watering lawns, even with reclaimed water. There are plenty of reasons why that reclaimed water could be used elsewhere. However, how anyone who is a Christian can pray for rain is beyond me. For it to rain enough to make a difference, we are going to need to a major hurricane. How can anyone pray for something that would cause misery and possibly death to thousands of people?

Perpetuating the myth that God can solve this problem, just means that the people, religious or otherwise are being denied real information.

Water, Water everywhere…

drop-of-water[1]While I was in California last week, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of Emergency because of the drought conditions, Californians are seriously concerned about the impact of wildfires; over in West Virginia 300,000 people are affected by tap restrictions following the chemical spill in the Elk River and the company that caused it goes into bankruptcy, most people are concerned about their drinking water. Here in Texas, the invisible effect on the rice growers hasn’t caused the “waves” it should, another year and they’ll be gone, likely for good. For the most part, the drought has just caused people to be grumpy about the state of the lakes for boating and swimming.

What all these miss is the hidden impact of water, it’s hidden uses. For the most part, we simply couldn’t exist as we know it if we continue as we currently are. It’s not about drinking water, leisure activities, and it’s not about growing rice in Texas. What people miss are the industrial uses of water, it’s a key part of almost everything we do, eat and everything we make, and especially what we wear. Here are some interesting statistics.

  • Fresh water makes up less than 3% of all the water on earth
  • 72% of US States are predicting water shortages this year
  • The US uses 400 million gallons of fresh water every day, which is more per person than any other country on earth
  • 41% of the fresh water in the US is used for agriculture
  • It takes nearly 3-gallons of water to make a plastic bottle, for, err, drinking water
  • It takes approximately 3-gallons of water to make a single sheet of paper
  • It takes 10-gallons per hour to power the appliances in your home!
  • Each cob of corn takes nearly 23-gallons; a 2-litre bottle of cola, 132 gallons
  • With all the process involved, washing and making the threads that go in, and washing and dying the material and jeans that come out, it takes nearly 3000 gallons to make a single pair of jeans
  • It takes some 39,000 gallons to make a car

Back in the late 1990’s I spent a lot of time presenting at education and government conferences, mostly on technology. At a number of the conferences I heard speakers talk about “water wars”. They gave example of existing and upcoming conflicts. These discussions, presentations were added to the list of of future issues to research. At the time, the thinking was India vs Pakistan, Africa, and Israel vs Palestine. The 2000 Cochabamba, Bolivia water crisis, turned into a domestic war that eventually bought down the government and shows the risk of continuing down the route of private, commodity path.

In my 2002/3 Trends and Directions presentation, using then available data, I predicted 2/3 of Worlds population will have water shortages by 2050; Consumption tripled in 50-years “ Water wars” are on the way – Iceland/Mexico/Pakistan/India; More refugees created by dams and development than by persecution.

Little did I understand how close to home it would come. While Israel and Palestine signed a recent historic accord, Texas, California and Mexico are still far further apart, with at least an economic water war looming. Meanwhile the fracking industry gleefully point out that watering golf courses uses more water than fracking, they fail to mention we can really afford neither.

This 2006 documentary shows how water is viewed, sought after and how American usage is described as totally unsustainable. It is available in it’s full 76-minute version on YouTube, if you don’t have time to watch the full version, just watch through the last 5-minutes.

Don’t be confused by the arguments about desalination, and the famous no water is wasted, circle of life deceit.  At that time in our history the chances of building enough desalination plants to meet our needs, are minute. The same can be said of the circle of life belief. They advocate/argue that water never really goes away it just recirculates. Even the water that does evaporate comes back somewhere in the form  of rain. Waste water can be treated and returned as claen. The answer on both these depends massively on if the buyer is willing to pay and in the current climate, I say not.

The NY Times has  water as a topic you can track for news, as does Al Jazeera America. Strangely the NY Times has a lot more outward looking articles, Al Jazeera, more inward looking.

For Groundwater, Political Boundaries Trump Natural Ones

For Groundwater, Political Boundaries Trump Natural Ones

The Tribune just published an interesting insight into the politics behind groundwater in Texas and how it is managed.

It includes this helpful summary of how things got the way they are “When most GCDs [Groundwater Conservation Districts] were created, they focused on making sure current and historic water pumpers wouldn’t need to change their habits, he said. Instead, they should have encouraged them to limit their pumping as much as they could, knowing that new users would be entering the picture and competing for dwindling resources. “

Abbott, leads by example

And says FU to Texas water users.

Attorney general Abbott knows the law,  if nothing else. Texas is a property rights state,  along with which come a number of other rights,  not normally recognized as either good for the Commons,  or not allowed by law in a modern democracy.

Those rights include everything under the property,  which would obviously include oil  gas shale,  but in this instance include water. Abbott must like a green lawn, we all do, but for the most part it has become impractical and should be unaffordable to waste water on a lawn.

In what are record drought conditions with numerous businesses affected, boat docks, related people and business, plus the farmers and rice fields downstream from Austin getting more and more severe restrictions, you’d think the candidate for Governor of Texas would lead by example, apparently he is, he’s drilled a well on his property and is watering his lawn from it. This article in the Texas Tribune covers the details.

Abbott Stormy waterThis letter in the current Austin Chronicle, by Philip Russell explains why Abbott is wrong, either way. Doesn’t Texas deserve better than this?

In the interests of transparency, I have a sprinkler system, it was installed when the house was built and generally never gets used. I can’t say I’ve never used it, I have, but not this year. My neighbor replaced half the turf on my lawn to stop the weeds spreading to his lawn, I’ve not watered it since. Also, since our drains run directly into the creek and town lake, I won’t use weed killer or chemicals on the lawn.

[Update: 12/2/13. I guess this is Philip Russell the letters author.]

Texas Water Wars

Image from

Despite the recent rain we’ve been having in Austin, and many flash floods, it hasn’t really made much of a difference to the lake levels, it will take time for the water to work it’s way through the ground and collection systems to the lakes.

This report by the Texas Tribune highlights the current tension between Texas and Mexico over a 1944 water agreement. Things were very different back then. However, many of these issues have been well understood and behind many tensions around the world. I discussed this back in 2003 in my technology trends and direction presentation. I’d been a technology presenter at a number of science related conferences and at a couple of them heard  some really good summaries of the issues, and at another geopolitical keynote where they talked about the potential world flare-up points post 9/11. Many of those were around the availability of water.

One of the things we kicked off in IBM at the time was an “Internet of things” project. Many people were doing interesting stuff around the company and this gave it a uniting theme. The ability to monitor water flows and levels would be key, and was largely similar to a recent project on oil pipelines.

Meanwhile, over the last 10-years, for the most part the climate deniers here in Texas have largely wasted their opportunities to address seriously climate change, and water conservancy. Which makes these legal maneuvers with Mexico even more important. The current ballot in front of Texans includes Prop. 6. a constitutional amendment that would take $2 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day fund to create two accounts to help fund water projects in the state. Better late than never.

Water, water everywhere…

It’s not the claim in this article, well researched and with many links that scare me that some 30 Texas towns are running out of water, that I find scary. I’m sure overtime, given the size of Texas there is some natural occurrence of this, and it can be measured and to some degree predicted.

What I find most concerning, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard it, but when you see it in writing on a respectable website, it really hits home. It’s this

We’ve got to get floods. We’ve got to get a hurricane to move up in our country and just saturate everything to replenish the aquifer,” he said. “Because when the water is gone. That’s it. We’re gone.


The quote is attributed to a Buck Owens, rancher. Owens reserved his anger for the contractors who drilled 104 water wells on his leased land, to supply the oil companies. Water levels were dropping in his wells because of the vast amounts of water being pumped out of the Edwards-Trinity-Plateau Aquifer, a 34,000 sq mile water bearing formation.

So, lets recap

  • Fracking has accelerated and is draining an Aquifer that is 34,000 sq miles
  • Texas is a Republican mostly “god fairing”, climate denying state
  • We are increasingly hoping for a god or natural disaster to save our water
  • Said natural disaster is likely to cause significant harm to the property and lives of many of its own residents to make a difference
  • The Republican state government in general doesn’t believe in big federal government, but isn’t past asking for our share of its disaster relief when it suits them.
  • Oil and gas from fracking is being shipped offshore to be sold on the international market, it doesn’t directly make us energy independent.
  • If fracking made us energy independent, we’d be preserving it and restricting it’s extraction for when we really need it
  • The reduction in fracking would at least give the aquifers a chance of refilling naturally.

Does anyone else see the conflict going on here?

Whose water is it anyway?

Watching from twitter, I’m saddened, disappointed, embarrassed and angry, if as tweeted by @impactnews_cta , the Austin Mayor, Lee Leffingwell said

strong conservation program is important, but “if we don’t use our water, somebody else will” #atxgov — Community Impact CTA (@impactnews_cta)

The water waste in Austin is monumental. It’s probably not significantly different from most major US Cities. However, Austin is the Capital City of Texas. The 2nd biggest state(1) in the union of the United States of America, and claims to be a liberal oasis and environmental hub. In east and west Texas right now the drought and water shortages are decimating communities, more than 50% percent of US States have now declared disaster because of the drought.

At a national level the US can’t agree: ‏@lifebits

As drought worsens, US Congress fails to agree on farm relief.: The rival parties fail to pass even a scaled-dow…

So it’s even more important for the States and Municipalities to lead.

Leffingwells comment though belies the arrogance of the majority of Texans about private property and their rights. Property is always owned and defended, the mineral rights are fiercely defended. Water isn’t something that comes from somewhere, flows through a property , and flows on to somewhere else. It’s a resource that belongs to a property owner if it’s under their property, they believe they should be able to extract it, sell it, waste it.

Austin deserves better, Texas needs to lead, not to waste water.

(1) Alaska is the largest, thanks to Scott for the correction.

Texas, Life by the drop

It’s hard to imagine here in Austin, where the most obvious sign of the drought was the ban on fireworks, the new islands in Lake Travis, a few of us even made jokes about being able to set mountain bike races up out there.

In most other parts of Texas, especially West Texas, its not about fun. 2011 was the driest year on record in Texas, Texas lost between 600,000 and a million head of cattle; people were giving away sound horses rather than see them starve. It’s not a 1-year drought, it’s been going 3-4 years and we are not out of it yet.

I sat in the garage when I got home tonight to listen to the end of this 1-hour documentary on KUT. I’ve not done something like that since, oh I’d guess 1984 when I listened to the Howard Stern show and an interview with a politician over the state of baby polyestors used in suits. It was simply hilariously funny, and it was raining outside.

Life By the Drop is a close look at the state of water and drought in Texas, looking both to the past and the future for answers on how the state can manage a growing population amid a shrinking water supply. I’ve been reading tonight on the StateImpact Texas, with audio slideshows, interviews and more. The show is a great cross between news, history, and documentary.

Listen in, and change your water use.